Monday, September 28, 2020


#567 Hello Sally!


It will be a short one this time muchachos. But I’m posting this for a couple of reasons. I’ve had numerous enquiries about how Miss Dorothy and I fared in Hurricane Sally, which came ashore just to the east of us. Also, I’ve vowed that come what may I will post at least one new AstroBlog article every month. And I was hoping that might usually be two.

You didn’t get two in September for a very good reason:  it was resolutely cloudy in the weeks leading up to Hurricane Sally—September is the big month of hurricane season, after all—and it has been resolutely cloudy since. It is threatening to clear up this week, no doubt due to the presence of a waxing Moon. Moon or no, I need to get a telescope into the backyard for a photo-shoot to accompany my next Sky & Telescope Test Report, so I may actually grab a camera and give M13 a try. As those of you who've hung out here for a while know, I try to image the grand Great Globular once a year no matter what.

Anyhow, what happened during the storm? Well, a couple of days before Sally hit, I had a premonition:  this was gonna be another Elena. A what? Hurricane Elena struck Gautier, Mississippi back in 1985. Unk, a young, freshly-minted engineer with his first real job happened to be living in that little coastal town at the time. But that wasn’t the kicker.

The kicker was that my wife at the time and I had gone to bed Saturday night after hearing a weather report that assured us Elena would hit Apalachicola, Florida. Being late risers on Sunday who liked to read the New York Times over much coffee sans TV or radio, we didn’t give the storm any thought in the morning. Till the phone rang. It was one of my colleagues asking what the wife and I were gonna do. I replied, "I think she’s still reading the magazine section; I’m making more coffee.”

“No, I mean about the storm.”

“What storm? Elena? Why should we have to do anything?”

“You haven’t heard? Turn on the freaking TV. She’s going to come ashore at Gautier and go right over our heads!”

And so she did. And quite an experience it was; it’s the only time I’ve experienced the passage of the eye of a hurricane. Frightening? Yes. Strangely exhilarating? Also, "yes."

I had that ineffable feeling that Sally was gonna be a repeat, so to speak, and it became clear that was precisely what would happen. Sally’s track got pushed to the east past Louisiana, past Mississippi, and right to Alabama.

Ever since Elena, I’ve taken these things seriously even when I’m told I’ve got nothing to worry about. Most of our preparations were already complete by the time Sally drew a bead on the Alabama Gulf Coast. I’d made a run on Publix for bottled water and other stuff (pop-tarts, peanut butter, bacon; the usual survival supplies), and the 25kw whole house generator we’d had installed last year had coincidentally just been serviced and was ready to go. Only thing left to do was to tip-over my amateur radio HF vertical antenna. It has a tilt base for just such eventualities, so that was easy.

The evening before landfall was eerily calm, though looking up and seeing clouds literally dashing across the sky foretold there was something bad in the Gulf headed our way. I went to bed about midnight just as the bands of rain began to come thick and fast and winds began to gust up to 30 – 40 mph.  I slept well but for a couple of times when I was awakened by the power going out, the generator coming on, and power being automatically transferred. But I was able to fall back asleep each time. Until about 5 am or somewhat before when it really began to blow and the power went off and stayed off.

Gotta tell y’all: your old Uncle really squealed about the price of the generator and its switchgear and their installation, but I sure was happy to have it on this morning. The winds howled—did they ever! —gusting up to, I’d guess, 85 at least, but we had TV, air-conditioning, the Keurig, the microwave, pretty much everything. The cable TV did go out after a while, but the fiber Internet never faltered and we found a good weather channel on the darned Roku.

The W4NNF shack and the 6-meter antenna.
When it was obvious the storm was passing, I went out front and had a look. It was still dark, with just our home, the house across from us, and a couple of others in the neighborhood lit up. There were a few big limbs down in front, but just a few. 

Venturing out on the deck showed the backyard was about the same. The patio table was on its side but OK (I'd stashed the chairs in the radio shack the afternoon before). Oh, the driveway was covered in small limbs and leaves, and there were a few down at the back of the backyard, but nothing really major. Amazingly, my 6-meter antenna which was mounted on a cheap TV mast still stood. So did the 2-meter aerial on its TV mast. Alas, with one departing gust Sally knocked the 6-meter one down. Oh, well, I’d been meaning to replace the pitiful thing for a long time.

A trot around the neighborhood after the rain finally paused showed a few of my neighbors had lost trees. Those were invariably pines or palms, neither of which grace Unk's yard, thank goodness. Lot of limbs down, some older wooden fences had given up the ghost; that was about it.

The denouement? Power came back on at 7:30 am and stayed on. Part of the reason for that is our power lines are underground in this neighborhood, and the substation we are connected to also serves the local hospital, so getting it back working is a big priority with the power company.

Now, just across Mobile Bay where the eye had come ashore, the flooding and power loss and wind damage were terrible. Power was still off in some areas a week after the storm. Heck, some people in the city—like the downtown neighborhood where good old Chaos Manor South still stands in all her glory—were without power for almost that long. So, all things considered, I’d say me and Miss Dorothy were pretty lucky.

So that’s it, campers. Sure, I feel sorry for the folks with severe damage and who were without power for a long time. But this is the first storm I’ve ever been able to ride out in comfort. It wasn’t that long ago that Dorothy and I and daughter Lizbeth were evacuating to Atlanta in the middle of the night or—after Katrina—living in her university office for days. So, I know how it is. But we down here are tough when it comes to these storms; they are just a part of life on the Gulf.

Astronomy? As above, I plan to get my yearly M13 taken before time begins to run out. Hercules is already beginning to get a little low. I ain’t gonna wimp out like I have a time or two in the past and use video, either. No, it will be a DSLR, flats, darks, all that good stuff.

Well, I might wimp out a little bit. C8? No. 5-inch APO? No. It will be my beloved f/7.5 80mm fluorite refractor, Veronica. Yes, I know a little more focal length would be nice here in the relatively bright suburbs, but I’m lazy and it is just so easy to get pretty pictures with Ronnie.

So, stay tuned. If I actually get the skies and haven’t totally forgot how to do deep sky imaging, I should be back here this coming Sunday or (more likely the one after). Until then, muchachos, until then… 

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